At Homeland Center, residents are playing bingo, singing favorite tunes, creating fun crafts, eating pizza, and chatting with family – but not in the usual manner.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the activities department went into high gear to keep residents safe but still able to enjoy the events and routines that sustain Homeland’s renowned home-like feel.
“It’s important that we keep our residents’ spirits up, even though they’re not able to visit their families and are not going out,” says Activities Director Aleisha Connors. “Keeping them engaged in activities has been a key part. That’s where we come in, to make sure that quality of life is maintained.”
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Homeland Center has implemented strict containment measures based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Pennsylvania departments of Health and Human Services. They include prohibiting entry to all but essential staff (with exceptions for end-of-life situations), mandatory screening of staff, and maintaining social distancing.
Under these circumstances, residents can no longer enjoy the musicians, family visits, and social gatherings that brighten their days, but that doesn’t mean the activities take a rest. Here’s some of what’s going on at Homeland:
• Hallway bingo: From their doorways, residents play their bingo cards. Staff pull numbers and call them up and down the hallways.
• Ice cream cart: An ice cream cart makes rounds in the hallways and features ice cream sandwiches, Nutty Buddy cones, Twin Pops, and frozen bananas. The cart, decorated in colorful pictures of ice cream treats, even plays the familiar jangly tunes of a classic Mr. Frosty ice cream truck.
• Masked sing-along: Homeland residents love their sing-alongs. For the modified version, they maintain social distancing and wear face masks, even as they sing along to favorite tunes such as “You Are My Sunshine” or a cherished hymn with words they know by heart.
• Gratitude meditation: Employee Wellness Program Coordinator and Health Psychologist Dr. Roxane Hearn leads residents in meditation sessions to calm their minds and focus on thankfulness. “The residents absolutely love it,” says Aleisha.
Additionally, Homeland recently purchased 35 Pizza Hut pizzas and distributed them to residents who miss their usual lunch outings.
Restricted family visits can be the most challenging burden, but with the help of Homeland activities staff and their tablet computers, residents are delighted to connect electronically.
“Not all of them are familiar with this new technology, but when we have group chats and FaceTime with family members, they’re so excited,” says Activities Coordinator Dee Smith. “They even see their great-grandchildren and family pets. It’s a real highlight – you can see it in our residents’ faces.”
The overall goal is to maintain a sense of normalcy.
“We try to keep our residents engaged with interesting activities to help them focus on what we are doing instead thinking about not seeing their family,” says Dee.
The revamped activities require redesigned logistics. Residents are staying within their units, no longer congregating in the same common areas. Each activity coordinator is assigned to a different space, aided by reassigned Homeland at Home Hospice liaisons who can’t go into the field during the shutdown.
Staff also work hard to keep up their own spirits.
“What the residents see on the staffs’ faces is how they’re going to feel,” Aleisha says. “I’ve been telling my staff we have to keep calm and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Dee praises Aleisha as a director who “digs in and helps” with all the activities underway during long days at work. Aleisha appreciates Dee’s talent at keeping residents involved and engaged. They both admire the work of Homeland’s social work staff in assuring that residents stay sharp mentally.
“This is such a good environment to work in,” says Aleisha. “Everyone is committed to coming together for our residents.’’